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ISSUE 118 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/12/2004

Diwali excites participants

By Sara Perelli-Minetti
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 12, 2004

In contrast to the bustle and chaos of Stav Hall on Saturday evening, students found sanctuary amongst the beautiful lights, tantalizing smells and gentle conversation of the Diwali festival held in the Kings Dining Room.

The dining room was decorated with strings of white lights, and on each of the tables votive candles glowed.

The flickering candles created a festive ambience which seemed to reflect the excitement of all attending.

The party-like atmosphere was increased by the colorful and sparkling traditional Indian clothing worn by many students and adults.

After students and families settled at tables in the two rooms, the evening began with a welcome from emcees Naoya Nishino 05, representing St. Olaf, and Pranav Yadav, representing Carleton.

In his brief explanation of the Hindu festival of Diwali, Pranav explained that Diwali means "rows of lighted lamps," and the celebration is often referred to as the Festival of Lights.

During this five-day festival, homes are thoroughly cleaned and windows are opened to welcome Laksmi, the goddess of wealth. Candles and lamps are lit as a greeting to Laksmi, gifts are exchanged, and festive meals are prepared. He summarized the festival as a celebration of light, good people, good clothes and good food.

Following the opening comments, several St. Olaf and Carleton students performed a dance collaboration titled "Mahi-Ve."

Dance is a significant part of Indian culture, and this dance, performed to modern Indian music, was one of four throughout the evening.

After the dance, Pranav explained that a "puja," or short prayer, is said before an Indian meal. Two students proceeded to read the prayer in both English and Indian. A small table was then brought forth with an image of Laksmi surrounded by many lighted candles.

Students who chose to participate in the next part of the prayer were then invited to wave a plate with a candle and incense in a circular motion in front of the picture.

At the conclusion of the prayer, Nishino invited students and families to proceed to the buffet area for an Indian meal, catered by Surabhi Indian Cuisine in Bloomington.

The enticing smells which had been wafting over the crowd proved to be a combination of vegetarian and meat dishes, and the traditional Indian flat bread, naan.

The meal proved to be a draw for many students. Allison Quam '07 said, "Im obsessed with Indian food."

Mary Sotos '07 said that attending the festival was "a nice change from the Caf." She also added, "How can you say no to learning about Indian culture?"

Siri Framness 05 said that her interest in attending was sparked by her past semester spent studying biology in south India, where she was able to participate in Diwali. Although Saturdays celebration lacked the firecrackers Framness observed in the streets in India, it was an enjoyable experience for her.

Dinner was followed by a traditional Indian dance performed by St. Olaf's Veselica International Dance Group.

Student speaker Ishanaa Rambachan '08, daughter of Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion, gave a personal speech after dinner as well.

Ishanaa shared stories from her childhood celebrations of Diwali.

"I remember running with my brother all over the house, eating candy and upsetting candles which had been placed out for the celebration," she said.

Rambachan also offered further explanation of Diwali. She informed students that Diwali is both a religious and cultural occasion for Hindus, with the central symbol of the celebration being light.

"Light is impartial, it is present and equal in all things, Rambachan said. It symbolizes knowledge, truth, wisdom, liberation and happiness.

Rambachan also added that Diwali is traditionally celebrated on the darkest night of the year, bringing hope and happiness with the sharing of the light.

Carleton student dancer Kimloan Nguyen performed a third traditional dance following Rambachans speech.

The night of light, food, dazzling clothing and friends was brought to an end with a closing statement from Nishino and Yadav, thanking all who attended, as well as the student organizations which made the gathering possible. The evening ended with a final "Bhemro" dance performed by St. Olaf students Radha Shenoy '06, and Abiola Lepe '05.

A combined effort of St. Olaf and Carleton, this years Diwali festival was hosted by several on-campus organizations, including the Asian Cultures Association, the Diversity Celebrations Committee and Multicultural Affairs and Community Outreach. These organizations joined with similar groups from Carleton to create an evening to increase awareness of Hindu culture on campus.

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